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Monday, 22 April, 2002, 11:45 GMT 12:45 UK
Court examines Musharraf poll
Pro-Musharraf posters
Posters urging support for Musharraf's campaign
Pakistan's Supreme Court has begun hearings to decide whether a planned referendum to extend President Pervez Musharraf's term of office is legal.


Musharraf is violating the constitution blatantly

Farooq Hassan
Lawyer

Four petitions brought by opposition groups and a team of Supreme Court lawyers have said the referendum is unconstitutional.

The Pakistani constitution has been suspended ever since General Musharraf took over in a military coup in 1999.

The referendum, due to be held on 30 April, will decide whether President Musharraf can stay in office for another five years.

The BBC's Zaffar Abbas in Islamabad says the legal challenge is a crucial step in determining the future shape of parliamentary democracy in Pakistan.

Accusations

A lawyer for one of the petitioners, the hardline Jamaat-i-Islami party, said the case would decide the fate of the nation.

"The referendum called by General Pervez Musharraf is unconstitutional, without any legal authority," the lawyer, Farooq Hassan, said.

"Musharraf is violating the constitution blatantly."

President Pervez Musharraf
Musharraf says the referendum will ensure stability

On Sunday, Jamaat-i-Islami leader Qazi Hussain Ahmed, was detained by police to prevent him from carrying out a protest march against the referendum.

The Jamaat-i-Islami is Pakistan's largest religious party.

General Musharraf's controversial referendum has united religious parties and the country's main political parties, who have called for a boycott.

The president is holding a number of rallies around the country to garner support for extending his rule.

But the opposition is only being allowed to hold one rally, in Lahore, a few days before the poll.

However, President Musharraf, who announced the plan earlier this month, has denied that the move is unconstitutional.

He says he is presenting himself before the people to end uncertainty in the country.

Under the constitution, Pakistan's president should be elected by the national and provincial assemblies and the senate.

But General Musharraf says the constitution allows a referendum to be held on matters of national importance.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Zaffar Abbas
"He insisted that the referendum he has called is legal and constitutional"
See also:

03 Apr 02 | South Asia
Musharraf goes for 'Zia option'
03 Apr 02 | South Asia
Musharraf poll approved
13 Mar 02 | South Asia
Musharraf warns opposition leaders
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